January 28, 1944 – Goofy Short Subject How to Be a Sailor is Released.
“Star light, star bright – gosh, I wish I knew where I was tonight.”
On January 28, 1944, the short How to Be a Sailor was released to theaters. Following in the tradition of the How-To series starring Goofy, the short is an entertaining quick run-through of sailing throughout the ages. The surprising thing about this short is that the ending does deal with World War II, where it is Goofy against the entire Japanese fleet. This section, coupled with the rest of the short, not only gives the audience a good laugh, but also helps establish the feeling of invincibility in the face of fear when it came to the Japanese soldiers and the war. It’s also notable for being the only short of the war shorts to deal with the Navy, as the rest were mostly dealt with Army settings. The short was directed by Jack Kinney, and stars Pinto Colvig as the voice of Goofy, with John McLeish as the narrator.
“In the beginning,” the narrator starts off, “the world was all wet. Today, it is still four-fifths wet.” We are introduced to early man – or, early Goofy, as the case would be – who tromps through the woods and through shallow water, before falling into a deep section. Struggling to swim, he comes across a log; he’s unsteady on it, but manages to gain some stability and float along, until he comes across a method of propulsion: a wooden board. Excited, Caveman Goofy takes the board and happily steers himself around in circles.
We fast-forward to Egypt, where we see a boat rowing down the Nile river, and find that Goofy is rowing it by his lonesome, with a contraption that allows him to row the at least twenty oars needed to propel the ship. Soon after, we are sent to visit Viking Goofy, who used the stars as his compass. As Goofy laments that he wish he knew where he was, a constellation of Goofy with a bow and arrow hears his plea and shoots the star arrow, sending Viking Goofy and his boat flying across the ocean to their destination.
The next sequence addresses how 13th Century people viewed the world, and wondered what shape it was in, and the audience sees various shaped globes, ranging from diamonds to cylinders. We then see one of their theories in action: sail West far enough, you would sail off the edge of the world. A Goofy version of King Neptune and two fish peek out from the edge of the world, watching the ship fall, and shake their heads.
“From the earliest days, sailors were preyed upon by…pirates!” the narrator yelps as the pirate flag is raised. Goofy, a perfect pirate captain with peg-leg and eye-patch, is the victim of a mutiny. His crew pushes out a board, and he is sent to walk the plank, or “feed the sharks.” But a storm hits the next boat the audience sees, and the waves play a game of passing the ship from wave to wave. “For safety’s sake,” the narrator explains, “sailors would lash themselves to the mast.” We then see Goofy tied tightly to the mast, which is unfortunately is struck by lightning and sent crashing through the ship.
The most famous sequence of the short is the flag sequence, where we are taught the alphabet through semaphoring and wigwagging. Goofy tries to keep up with the fast pace of the narrator, but unfortunately wigs where he should have wagged, and his trousers fall around his feet. After hiding behind a sail to fix his situation, he comes out and begins to dance the traditional dances of the sea, including a dance of hoisting the sail, rowing, and being a look out, only he isn’t looking out where he is going. We also see Goofy tying knots, with some literal interpretations by the animators: Goofy ties a square knot (the knots make the shape of a square), then a sheepshank (which “baas” when he pulls on it), and as he slips on the next knot, he knocks himself in the jaw, to which the narrator explains is the “slipknot.”
“And now, through trial and error, the sailor has at last, mastered the sea.” We see sailors on a Navy vessel, dreaming of pin-up girls, when the call to attack is sounded. Goofy picks up a missile to fire, only he slips and is sent out of the ship instead of the weapon, and is seen single-handedly destroying the Japanese fleet, as well as the symbol of the Rising Sun, saving the day.
The real gem of this short is the music, with the use of sea tunes to add humor to the situations. For instance, in the Egypt scene, when Goofy is struggling to row by himself, there is a teasing version of Row, Row, Row Your Boat playing in the background. Goofy, when dancing, also keeps in time with a xylophone version of The Sailor’s Hornpipe, which gives a whimsical addition to the already humorous dancing.
Although considered one of the war shorts, the short can stand up well on its own without the association. The pace is quick, but not overwhelmingly so, and gives the audience one laugh after another. This short is a highly enjoyable piece, and one of the best gems of Goofy’s career.
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